The uncompromising italian(10)

By: Cathy Williams


‘Yes. I forgot—the “bodies under the motorway” scenario.’ He raised his eyebrows and once again Lesley felt herself in danger of losing touch with common sense.

‘I never imagined anything so dramatic, at least not really,’ she returned truthfully, which had the effect of making that sexy smile on his face even broader. Flustered, she continued, ‘But you were telling me that you have a daughter.’

‘You still can’t erase the incredulity from your voice,’ he remarked, amused. ‘Surely you’ve bumped into people who have had kids?’

‘Yes! Of course! But...’

‘But?’

Lesley stared at him. ‘Why do I get the feeling that you’re making fun of me?’ she asked, ruffled and red-faced.

‘My apologies.’ But there was the echo of a smile still lingering in his voice, even though his expression was serious and contrite. ‘But you blush so prettily.’

‘That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard in my life!’ And it was. Ridiculous. ‘Pretty’ was something she most definitely was not. Nor was she going to let this guy, this sex God of a man—who could have any woman he wanted, if you happened to like that kind of thing—get under her skin.

‘Why is it ridiculous?’ Alessio allowed himself to be temporarily side-tracked.

‘I know you’re probably one of these guys who slips into flattery mode with any woman you happen to find yourself confined with, but I’m afraid that I don’t go into meltdown at empty compliments.’ What on earth was she going on about? Why was she jumping into heated self-defence over nonsense like this?

When it came to business, Alessio rarely lost sight of the goal. Right now, not only had he lost sight of it, but he didn’t mind. ‘Do you go into meltdown at compliments you think are genuine?’

‘I...I...’

‘You’re stammering,’ he needlessly pointed out. ‘I don’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable.’

‘I don’t...err...feel uncomfortable.’

‘Well, that’s good.’

Lesley stared helplessly at him. He wasn’t just sinfully sexy. The man was beautiful. He hadn’t looked beautiful in those pictures, but then she had barely taken them in—a couple of grainy black-and-white shots of a load of businessmen had barely registered on her consciousness. Now, she wished she had paid attention so that she at least could have been prepared for the sort of effect he might have had on her.

Except, she admitted truthfully to herself, she would still have considered herself above and beyond being affected by any man, however good-looking he might happen to be. When it came to matters of the heart, she had always prided herself on her practicality. She knew her limitations and had accepted them. When and if the time came that she wanted a relationship, then she had always known that the man for her would not be the sort who was into looks but the sort who enjoyed intelligence, personality—a meeting of minds as much as anything else.

‘You were telling me about your daughter...’

‘My daughter.’ Alessio sighed heavily and raked his fingers through his dark hair.

It was a gesture of hesitancy that seemed so at odds with his forceful personality that Lesley sat up and stared at him with narrowed eyes.

‘Where is she?’ Lesley looked past him, as though half-expecting this unexpected addition to his life suddenly to materialise out of nowhere. ‘I thought you mentioned that you had no family. Where is your wife?’

‘No sprawling family,’ Alessio amended. ‘And no wife. My wife died two years ago.’

‘I’m so sorry.’

‘There’s no need for tears and sympathy.’ He waved aside her interruption, although he was startled at how easily a softer nature shone through. ‘When I say wife, it might be more accurate to say ex-wife. Bianca and I were divorced a long time ago.’

‘How old is your daughter?’

‘Sixteen. And, to save you the hassle of doing the maths, she was, shall we say, an unexpected arrival when I was eighteen.’

‘You were a father at eighteen?’

‘Bianca and I had been seeing each other in a fairly loose fashion for a matter of three months when she announced that her contraceptive pill had failed and I was going to be a father.’ His lips thinned. The past was rarely raked up and when it was, as now, it still brought a sour taste to his mouth.

Unfortunately, he could see no way around a certain amount of confidential information exchanging hands because he had a gut feeling that, whatever his uninvited email correspondent wanted, it involved his daughter.